Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

All Through the Night

April 20, 2008

Terfel and Martineau
Photo : mine 2008

There was another Los Angeles Opera event this weekend besides the Placido Domingo gala benefit – a recital from baritone par excellence Bryn Terfel. As much respect as I have for Mr. Domingo, I did not attend the former given that I typically need a better reason for such a plus-sized ticket price than the usual collection of arias in concert format. (Even if they are delivered in part by Patricia Racette.) However, I did attend Mr. Terfel’s latest visit to town on his current North American concert tour. Overall, it wasn’t bad, though it wasn’t particularly overwhelming either.

Terfel is a consummate musician. His wonderful rich baritone can perform circles around most of his competition. So, though it may be a little unfair, it’s hard to get excited when someone with such a gift plays it so safe. Terfel’s program with pianist Malcolm Martineau was pretty much what you would expect – an hour or so of English songs from John Ireland, Warlock, Quilter, and Vaughn Williams and an hour with Schubert Lieder, 3 songs from Fauré, and a single aria each from Mozart and Handel. Things wrapped up with “Songs from the Celtic Isles.” You guessed it, “Passing By,” “Molly Malone,” and of course, “Danny Boy.” The audience was asked to sing and hum along at times here in the home stretch. Everything was well sung, though I felt his lieder technique a bit wanting. The Vaughn Williams' settings of "The Roadside Fire" and "Silent Noon" were clear standouts amongst his impeccable English songs. Best of all, Terfel kept the sotto voce histrionics to a minimum even in the most tempting places. I most appreciated his restrained and serious interpretations of material that can easily get away from lesser vocalists.

As is Terfel's trademark, the entire show is wrapped up in his warm sense of humor and gregarious stage presence. He does rely on a bit of a shtick at this point, particularly that brand of comic inept suitor stuff that spills over from his patented Falstaff performances. But it works for him. In a way he is the male equivalent of Cecilia Bartoli whose amazing talent always seems to come along with that “Are-you-really-that-excited-to-see-little-ol’-me?” jazz. It is a good show, though. And let’s face it. There aren’t a whole lot of people around these days selling the familiar brand of vocal performance as Terfel does. He’s got it down, and it’s still very much worth seeing.

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